Michael Phelps put his loss to Ryan Lochte yesterday at the 200 meter freestyle behind him and became the first swimmer to win a gold medal in the same event (200 Butterfly) for a fifth time. He won his first won in the 200 fly back Fukuoka in 2001. The time then?1:54.58, setting a new world record. This time? 1:53.54. Not enough for a new record, not in the post-super suits era.
The kings of this event, and pretty much of swimming for over half a decade now, Phelps hasn’t faced doubters for quite a while. Still, at 26, a swimmer, even if you’re the greatest of all time, even if you have 22 (23 now) gold medals in the World Championships and 14 in the Olympics, the gradual decline has to come.
Phelps is gunning for the 100 meter freestyle in London, a year from now. He’s always been competing in the 4×100 relay, but hardly ever in the individual race. It has changed his training, and it seemed obvious that something in his swimming has changed. Stronger starts, but he tends to fade away in the last 50 meters. That how it went down yesterday when facing Lochte in the 200 meter freestyle. Phelps led for most of the way, but faded after a while. Lochte, the new king of the Medley (won the golds in 200 and 400 in Rome back in 2009), got his first gold of Shanghai.
So when Phelps didn’t begin the finals as one of the fastest swimmers, finishing second in his semi final heat behind Takeshi Matsuda, you could feel that a loss here might have grave consequences on Phelps’ future and chances in London. This Phelps didn’t fade away. He led from the first moment, and just made it even more clear in the final 50 meters that he’s still the best there is in this event.